male caregiver with arms on elder man with cane sitting on couchApproximately 53 million Americans provide unpaid care to another adult, and providing adequate care to a loved one requires over 24 hours per week on average, according to the Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 Report by the National Alliance for Caregivers and AARP. However, caregivers often devote so much time and energy to caring for a loved one that they neglect to take adequate care of themselves. This has become so prevalent that “caregiver burnout” is now a common term. Caregiver burnout is characterized by physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned. Many caregivers even feel guilty if they spend time on themselves rather than on caring for their elderly or ill loved one.

If you are a caregiver in your family, you need to recognize the difficulty of what you are undertaking and be aware of the signs that you may be trying to do too much. Ask yourself the following questions to determine if you are approaching burnout:

  • Are you exhausted even after a full night’s sleep?
  • Do you seem to catch an unusually large number of colds?
  • Do you feel like your whole life revolves around caregiving, but you don’t get any satisfaction from it?
  • Are you always tense or feel like you’ve lost the ability to simply relax?
  • Are you increasingly impatient with the person in your care?
  • Have you lost interest in activities you once enjoyed?
  • Do you have anxiety about the future?
  • Do you often feel helpless, sometimes even hopeless?

If you answered yes to some of these questions and you didn’t feel this way until you began serving as a caregiver, you may be approaching burnout. You need to start caring for yourself.

First, understand that what you are feeling is not unusual. Caregiver burnout is much more common than you might think. This should come as no surprise given the number of Americans serving as caregivers and the amount of time and energy required to provide adequate care.

Here are some steps you can take if you believe you might be suffering from caregiver burnout:

  • Learn as much as you can about your loved one’s illness and how to care for it.
  • Recognize your limits and take a more realistic approach to how much time and effort you can give your loved one. Be sure to express those limits to doctors and other family members.
  • Learn to accept how you feel about the responsibilities of being a caregiver, including emotions such as anger, fear, resentment, guilt, helplessness, and grief.
  • Talk to people about your feelings. Confiding in friends and family members can provide a sense of relief and help you overcome feelings of isolation.
  • Ask for help! Needing help doesn’t mean you are a bad caregiver. It just means that you can’t do it alone and that it’s completely okay.

This last step is particularly important. You are not alone, and support is available from people who understand what you are going through and can help you cope with the stress. You need to do whatever it takes to avoid a sense of isolation. You can find support groups within the community, online, through your physician, and from organizations associated with the health problem of the loved one under your care. Your local chapter of AARP, as well as agencies such as Family Caregiver Alliance, are good places to start seeking help.

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